Picture this. A man walks into a library … (stop me if you’ve heard this one before). It’s his local library but it’s a new one that has just opened. He says to the library assistant, “I’d like to borrow a book”. The assistant replies, “Certainly! Which device are you using?” The man begins to take in his surroundings and suddenly realises there are no bookshelves. All he can see are rows and rows of computers. “Device?” he replies, bewildered.
As new technologies are emerging, libraries are having to adapt to new trends, new technologies and new possibilities. One such trend that is becoming commonplace, as we move through our technological revolution at the speed of light, is BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device.
So what do we mean by device? Device is a term that is used to refer to a piece of electronic equipment used to access electronic or digital files. A smart phone, an e-reader, a tablet or a laptop computer would be considered a portable device. I specify portable because you obviously wouldn’t take a desktop computer to the library. Bringing your own device to the library, or anywhere else that you would like to read or work, is becoming quite common, with connectivity occurring through your internet and/or organisation network. However, like most things, there are positives and negatives that need to be carefully considered prior to implementing BYOD initiatives.
BYOD in education is inevitable. It is happening, and there isn’t much anyone can do to stop it. Devices are getting cheaper and cheaper, and are contributing to the large increase in ownership over the last few years. These devices are already a significant part of many people (including students’ lives), and are integral to the modern age in which we live.
BYOD is creating a generation of digitally literate students and work-ready adults, providing cost savings for schools and workplaces, and developing more engaged learners. Library customers are wanting to be able to search, view, request and download documents and information easily both inside and outside the walls of the library, at any time of the day. There really are infinite possibilities moving forward into the future with BYOD.
“We live in a world where these devices are a huge part of our student’s lives. Schools should position themselves to not only take advantage of this resource as budgets are tight, but also teach students about the powerful tool they possess” (Sheninger E. , 2011, p. 1).
BYOD can enable a number of successful outcomes for both customers and the library (Stavert, 2013):
- BYOD enables 21st century skills, such as digital literacy, creativity, and innovation skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, communication and collaboration, and self-directed learning.
- BYOD can ensure that students and learners of any sort can access the right, curriculum-led and teacher recommended e-content and digital resources.
- BYOD enables more personalised customer centred learning. It gives students power and authority over their own learning, leading to increased motivation and engagement.
- BYOD provides a bridge between the outside and inside of the library.
- BYOD technology can lead to exciting collaboration opportunities in the library, connecting people in different regions, states, and even countries!
- Students or customers can access their homework, to do lists, reading lists, reference lists etc. with the swipe of a finger.
- Customers can access the library catalogue, and take it around with them as they go through the library or search for particular resources
- BYOD provides exciting opportunities for libraries to market their services and events, and enables another way ofconnecting and engaging their customer-base, including through use of social media.
- BYOD can enable customers to find their resources, with programs that can locate certain books in the library, and direct customers to those locations.
- BYOD can enable greater engagement with books and associated resources, by engaging through QR codes, bar codes etc. that can direct the student to other resources, websites, apps etc.
- Technology can enable interactivity and fun in the library, engaging people through various media, and facilitate a love of learning,
- BYOD can facilitate virtual excursions to explore great libraries, great buildings, great books etc.
- BYOD enables access to digital resources and technology, in times where budgets are often diminishing, providing people the opportunity to utilise their own technology in place of limited library resources
- Technology is an enabler – what is it you would like to enable in your library, and how do you think you could use the BYOD phenomena?
Whilst there are numerous benefits to BYOD, it is also important to be aware of issues that may come up in the implementation of BYOD. Problems start to occur when the circumstances begin to vary. Some have suggested that BYOD should stand for “Bring Your Own Disaster”!
Let me explain. Using a portable device in a public library has very few problems associated with it, other than asking you, the poor library assistant, for help with their device. In reality, there are so many on the market that you may not have encountered their specific type of device. If the customer has set-up issues, the library assistant may need to seek help from the ‘brains trust’ of the team to navigate the device. The customer may need to access specific websites, such as Adobe or iTunes, to set up their account. They may need guidance to navigate the downloading ritual and then a quick tour to show them how to access their e-book. They can do all this through the Wi-Fi in their device or by using a cable to connect to a public computer.
However, in a school situation further complexities must be considered. Imagine the nightmare for the teacher or library staff when each child has a different device and needs help to set it up, access information or store downloaded files. “Oh, Miss! I forgot to plug in my device last night and now it has gone flat!” “Oh, no, Mr B! I forget to bring my device!” Eek! This is exactly why many schools are opting for class sets of laptops or tablets so that information can be pre-loaded and the devices are kept fully charged in the library.
Issues have also been raised around equity.
“The only way to guarantee equitable educational experiences is for each student to have access to the same materials and learning opportunities. BYOD leaves this to chance, with more affluent students continuing to have an unfair advantage over their classmates. This is particularly problematic in a society with growing economic disparity” (Sager, 2011)
Realistically, financial support will need to be provided to support families in financial need when addressing this issue.
Concerns have also been raised for the issues of distraction and theft. These fears have not been substantiated by research, however, schools or libraries need to have clear policies to cover these points.
Perhaps what we should do is have a look at some of the devices available and then you can make up your own mind. A summary is demonstrated in the graphic below:
An e-reader is a portable device, much like a tablet, that is used to read books. It is light and energy efficient, allowing for a longer battery life compared to tablets or laptops. Amazon make a variety of Kindles and many people make the mistake of using this word as a generic term for all e-readers. That can be quite confusing. The Kindle has its own operating system, which is Linux based. Barnes & Noble released their variety of device, which is called a Nook, and uses Android based software. The Kobo e-Reader comes in various forms and was release by Kobo Inc., using Kobo Firmware as its operating system. Sony produced the Reader family, with Android software. Onyx Boox are produced by Onyx International and run on Linus software. Then you have the cheap versions available at Big W, Kmart and Aldi. Don’t dismiss them out of hand just yet as some of these devices can be quite reliable and cost effective.
As if it’s not bad enough wading through the myriad of devices available, you then need to think about file types. That means the type of file extensions used to save the information to your device: .ePub, .txt, .pdf, .pbd, .htm, .ibooks, .azw3, .lit, .rtf, .oxps – in fact there are as many file extensions as there are e-readers. Kindles have been notorious as being incompatible with Overdrive. Many an unhappy customer has left the library after being told that Overdrive does not support Kindle … “you’ve bought the wrong device!”
Do not despair! There is help out there!
SpecOut have this great website where you can check out the popularity of various devices based on user reviews. It shows a picture of the device, along with a number of features. There are fifteen manufacturers from which to choose and a search can be refined by screen technology, interface, wireless connectivity, screen size, weight, price and even the file types supported. The best feature of this webpage is the Smart Rating, which “is designed to help you find the best ereader at a glance.” It lists a variety of attributes, on which it bases its rating, and these are colour coded and interactive, which helps to define the various features. Bear in mind that this is an American website so the prices will be in US$ but it’s still helpful to see the comparison of all these devices.
Similarly, PC Magazine has a website that uses a comparison table to list the various features of each device. Simply click the box next to the desired device and then click the comparison button. A table will be displayed so that you can see the various features side by side. Refine your search by price, company, screen type, book format, editor’s ratings and even editor’s choice awards. It doesn’t provide as much variety as SpecOut but it is a beautifully simple site to use.
If you don’t want to spend money on a device that only stores books, then perhaps a tablet would be of more use to you. The advantage of a tablet is that you can use it like a laptop but it is generally lighter and more compact. You can use it to surf the net or read your emails. You can listen to music, watch videos and play games – none of which can be done on an e-reader. The down side is that the battery won’t last nearly as long because all of these extra features use a lot of power.
Alternatively, a laptop might just be the better alternative. It’s easier to type on than a tablet and works just like a ‘real’ computer. Perhaps the ultimate compromise is Microsoft’s Surface range – a laptop with a detachable keyboard. Just like tablets, they can be used with a stylus. Interestingly, the Microsoft stylus has a thin nib like a pen rather than a thick rubbery stopper on its end. This is for use with its Digital Ink technology. Obviously, the battery life is proportionally compromised depending on the program being used but the vast range of functionality outweighs this for some users. There is always the option to purchase a portable power pack for on-the-go recharging. Devices like this are all-in-one so there is no need for a separate device for each activity.
Perhaps the ultimate device is the smart phone. It does everything! You can go online to surf the net; make phone calls or send text messages; pay bills; send emails; use face-to-face chat; play games; watch movies; listen to music … oh, and read a book! The downside is that the screens are generally smaller than e-readers or tablets but the phone can be turned sideways and the text can be enlarged. Again, the battery life is nowhere near as long as an e-reader but then you only need to carry one device to do everything.
At the end of the day, the choice is up to the individual. Decide what you want your device to do, what features are most important, how portable you want your device to be. and how much you want to pay. Do your research! Then go out there and bargain for the best price and package you can get.
So finally, a Softlink blog (Crook, date unknown) identified five things that libraries can do to implement BYOD. Briefly summarised, these included:
- Don’t fight the digital evolution. Position the library as a leader and enable BYOD access to the library.
- Develop an information sharing and learning technology culture.
- Encourage engagement through technology and promote digital literacy.
- Educate your school or library community about the value of e-access and eLearning programs.
- Help the school, council or organisation develop its BYOD policy.
It’s time we seriously consider BYOD and the technological implications it is having on our libraries.
By Helen Ladewig
Crook, J. (Date unknown). Top 5 things libraries can do to drive BYOD. Softlink.
Sager, G. (2011, October 8). BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century?
Sheninger, E. (2011, June 9). Tool for Learning or Distraction? Huffington Post.
Stavert, B. (2013). BYOD in Schools Literature Review. NSW Department of Education and Communities.